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MAUGHAN: These are people who are going to get scammed.

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.

DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: can you use the “law of attraction” to manifest a better life?

DUCKWORTH: “I’m going to write myself a check for $10 million, and I’m going to be the most successful comedic actor in the universe!”

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MAUGHAN: Angela, I am excited by today’s question, and truthfully have no idea what direction this conversation with you will go.

DUCKWORTH: Hmm, exciting. Go ahead.

MAUGHAN: Well, so, here’s to the journey we’re about to walk. It comes from Anonymous, who says, “I’ve been coming across the idea of ‘manifestation,’ or ‘law of attraction,’ in a lot of self-help podcasts and readings. I want to understand more on the psychology of these ideas, and do they actually work in real life?”

DUCKWORTH: Okay. So, Mike, I think I know what manifest — actually, I don’t know what manifestation and law of attraction are. Is this, like, positive thinking?

MAUGHAN: I think so. The first time I was truly introduced to the idea of manifestation came in, I don’t know, 2006. There was this book that came out and this movie that came out called The Secret. Have you ever heard of this?

DUCKWORTH: I have heard of it. I know it was a wild bestseller, like, crazy, just, like, publisher’s dream, right? That, like, some book written by — I don’t even know. It wasn’t a psychologist by training, right?  It was just — I, I don’t want to say “just a person,” but like —.

MAUGHAN: A mere mortal. 

DUCKWORTH: A mere mortal — but who knows the secret, apparently! So, tell me more because I have now exhausted my recollection of The Secret.  

MAUGHAN: So, The Secret was written by this Australian TV writer. Her name is Rhonda Byrne. The book went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide. And has been translated into more than 50 languages. She was heavily influenced by a book from 1910 — so almost a hundred years before she wrote hers, by a guy named Wallace Wattles, who wrote a book called The Science of Getting Rich. And it was this three-step process: ask, believe, receive. Wattles talked about how he got inspiration from the Bible — the Book of Matthew says, “Whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing ye shall receive.” So, in The Secret, Byrne refers to this three-step process. And she loved this idea so much. She ran with it and talked about how her life had collapsed around her. She’d worked herself into exhaustion. Her father had died. Her relationships with colleagues were in turmoil. And in the midst of all this, she gets the glimpse of a great secret. And then, she starts looking back through history, and she said the greatest people who ever lived all knew “the secret.” Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Hugo, Beethoven, Lincoln, Emerson, Edison, Einstein. And then she’s like, how does everybody know this?

DUCKWORTH: How does everybody successful know this, and how do the rest of us not know this, hence the bestseller? Right?

MAUGHAN: Yes, absolutely.

DUCKWORTH: Okay, keep going. Yeah.

MAUGHAN: And then, she just says that manifestation, seeking “the secret,” pulled all these people to her, and quickly she writes this book, makes this movie, and it blows up in the largest way where everyone starts talking about manifestation and The Secret. And manifestation is interesting. I can’t define it necessarily —.

DUCKWORTH: “Manifest” means “to happen,” right? Like, “to occur.” Like, something that was a thought then manifests. Something that was an idea manifests.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, it’s basically believing something into existence.  

DUCKWORTH: I mean, okay, so what you’ve explained to me is that there is an idea that is both old and new — this idea of manifestation. Is this the same as law of attraction?

MAUGHAN: I think that would be a way that many people sort of define it. So, the book that Byrne wrote, The Secret, was largely based on law of attraction.

DUCKWORTH: But, like, “attraction” to what? Is it the idea that you create a positive future in your mind, and then that attracts your reality to the ideal?

MAUGHAN: Yeah, so I’ll just give you an example from famous actor Jim Carrey. So, Jim Carrey self-describes as, quote, “a huge visualizer and manifester.” He tells this story about how he spent four years working in random comedy clubs, quote, “visualizing and manifesting my life.” During that time of just kind of slogging through the challenges of going to late-night comedy clubs, where you’re not a big deal, blah, blah, blah, he viewed himself as a great actor. He literally wrote himself a check for $10 million and put in the memo line “for acting services rendered by Jim Carrey.” He postdated the check to Thanksgiving 1995 and carried it around in his wallet. He said six months before that date, he was making $10 million for a movie. And he credits that to this manifestation that he would get to that point. So, that’s how people talk about manifestation who are manifestors.

DUCKWORTH: Okay. I have a lot to say actually about this topic now that you have explained to me what it is. So, this idea that you can visualize the future has been interesting to me before I was a psychologist, because when I was in, I think, fourth grade, I remember being in this classroom — I remember the windows were on the left. I remember where, you know, Miss Bryant’s teacher desk was — and in the back of the room, there was a poster, a ballerina on point, so she’s in this, like, dramatic pose. And there’s a quote: “If you dream it, you can achieve it.” And I remember walking into that classroom every day and thinking to myself, like, “Well, that’s interesting.” Like, “Really?” And I think that actually has the flavor of this idea of manifestation, or law of attraction, or you write yourself a check for $10 million and you imagine yourself the most successful comedic actor in the universe and then it comes to pass. So, it is intriguing walking into a classroom 180 times and seeing that on the wall, but also growing up then to be a psychologist who wants to understand people’s goals. ] You know, we’ve talked about this a little bit, Mike, there are these “self-fulfilling prophecies,” right? These beliefs that we have about whether we can or can’t make the track team, whether we are or are not going to blow the interview that we have, and these beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies when they shift our behavior and our attention in ways that are consistent with what we think is going to happen. And some psychologists think it’s all the way down to the nonconscious level where like there’s evidence that when you don’t believe that you can do something, you adjust your attention, your behavior, and maybe even non-conscious things in accordance with what you believe will be the future or won’t believe will be the future.   So, it’s an idea that actually has some scientific merit.  

MAUGHAN: Right. And that’s — a huge piece for me as I kind of looked into this, is the shift in attention. There’s this thing in TikTok right now — and I will just say that on TikTok, manifestation content has surged past 9 billion views. 

DUCKWORTH: Wait, is this, like, indexed under manifestation, or is it, like, people who are rereading The Secret?

MAUGHAN: People are using, like, “hashtag manifest,” “hashtag manifesting.”

DUCKWORTH: Oh, really?  

MAUGHAN: Nine billion views. But one of the most popular things is this 3-6-9 method of manifestation. It asks people to write down the thing that they are manifesting three times in the morning, six times in the afternoon, and nine times in the evening.

DUCKWORTH: Wow, I have not heard this.  

MAUGHAN: I’d never heard of this before either. But when you said “a shift in belief and attention” — I mean, think about that. How often have I — I’ll just use myself as the example — how often have I set a goal and then not looked back at it? In fact, I just found a notebook from nine years ago with a list of things I wanted to accomplish, and by accomplish, it was like, “go read X book or visit X place.” I’ve accomplished, like, half of them, and I didn’t do the rest, partly because I never looked at the list again.

DUCKWORTH: You forgot!

MAUGHAN: Yeah! And so if you’re writing something down a total of 18 times a day, if your attention is so squarely focused on that, well then, yeah. That becomes the kind of massive thing at the front of your brain that you’re striving toward all the time. And from a psychology perspective, that has to have a lot of merit — that you’re just thinking about it all the time, right?

DUCKWORTH: Let’s say from a motivational perspective, because it’s a little more specific. Okay. So, there turns out to be maybe not 9 million research articles on this, but — did you say 9 million or 9 billion?

MAUGHAN: Nine billion views of manifestation content.

DUCKWORTH: Then again, I’m like, I have no idea. Maybe that’s a small number in the world — like, maybe that’s, like, your typical cat video or something. But it seems like a lot. So, there are not 9 million, certainly not 9 billion, research articles written about manifestation — the law of attraction — but there is one article that as you were talking I just looked up and it was published in 2023, so it’s very recent research, and it’s called “‘The Secret’ to Success? The Psychology of Belief in Manifestation.”

MAUGHAN: Now is “The Secret” in quotes, as in referring to The Secret.

DUCKWORTH: The secret as in The Secret. Yes, exactly.  Like, The Secret. And so, what the research shows — it’s really, basically, the validation of a questionnaire called The Manifestation Scale. And it has two subscales — trying to delve into the psychology of those who really believe that they can cosmically attract success through their own visualization, through their own self-talk or other, you know, in a way, like, “magical” actions. So, there are questions on the “Personal Power” subscale that go like this: “Visualizing a successful outcome causes it to be drawn closer to me. I am more likely to attract success if I believe success is already on its way. Success is more likely to come to me the more I focus on positive emotions.” So, that’s just three of six items on the “Personal Power” subscale.

MAUGHAN: Now, that sounds a little bit like an extension of locus of control. Like, “I feel like I have power to impact my own surroundings, situation, etc.”

DUCKWORTH: Well, the first thing I thought when I was reading these items is it sounds like Jim Carrey, right? You know, believing that this positive and high-resolution vision of who you want to be 10 years from now actually has some force behind it. That’s not exactly the same thing as “locus of control.” Locus of control means like, I believe that what happens to me is under my control. I mean, obviously they’re close cousins, but I think they’re different in that this really has this specific emphasis on the power of visualization, the power of positive thinking. You could be somebody who’s really high in locus of control and you believe in Excel documents and, you know, making lists of to-dos, and writing in your journal so that you don’t forget what you intended to do. So, there’s this —.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, fair, I get it.

DUCKWORTH: And by the way, I’m not, like, saying this is good or bad. And I’ll explain the other subscale, and then we can just look at what these scientists found about what it correlates with — you know, people who score high on manifestation. So, here’s the second subscale. It’s called the “Cosmic Collaboration” subscale. I think these authors like alliteration because there’s “Personal Power” and there’s “Cosmic Collaboration.” But okay, this scale has items like, “I attract success into my life with the help of the universe or a higher power. The universe or a higher power sends me people and events to aid my success. I ask the universe or a higher power to bring me success.” So look, the first subscale — I can kind of see how visualization could be helpful. And indeed there is science behind that. “Cosmic Collaboration,” like believing that you can draw the powers of the universe, the cosmos, to aid in your success — that, I think, there’s less research on. But anyway, these are two subscales of The Manifestation Scale. And in this research, there were over a thousand volunteers who answered this questionnaire. And over one third of them positively endorsed these manifestation beliefs. That means about two thirds of them didn’t, of course. And those who scored higher — here’s the drum roll — were they more successful or less successful? What do you predict would be true of these one out of three people who endorse these manifestation beliefs, Mike?

MAUGHAN: Oh gosh, okay, I’ll just tell you my thinking. Part of me is thinking that yes, they’re more successful. The one area where I’m just not as sure is maybe they felt reliant on, quote, the “cosmos” or the “universe” to deliver something and put less energy into it themselves, but that would negate the personal power. So, I’m going to go with, yes. They were more successful than the two thirds who did not buy into it.

DUCKWORTH: Well, in this research study, it’s self-reported success. But anyway, people who score higher on the manifestation scale certainly perceive themselves as more successful — believe in their positive futures more. I guess that makes sense. But here’s the downside, and I think it really is the fly in the ointment. They’re also more likely to self-report being drawn to risky investments and to self-report that they’ve experienced bankruptcy. And also, to believe that they could achieve kind of implausible levels of success more quickly.

MAUGHAN: These are people who are going to get scammed.

DUCKWORTH: Well, this is the thing, right? Like, for every Jim Carrey who’s like, “I’m going to write myself a check for $10 million,  and I’m going to be the most successful comedic actor in the universe” — for every one Jim Carrey, how many people are, yeah, falling for scams, throwing good money after bad, spending time doing things that are actually not going to help them live a better life. So, that’s the very recent research. But I think your intuition that a lot of success in life is having what psychologists call this internal locus of control and not an external locus — in other words, what happens to you and whether your life turns out the way you want or not depends a lot on whether you believe that you can change it, that you have some agency.

MAUGHAN: I think that there’s so much power to this idea of believing that you can influence your life versus your life happens to you.

DUCKWORTH: You want to be the subject of your sentence, not the object of your sentence.

MAUGHAN: Yeah. But I hear what you’re saying on this idea of manifestation that maybe by going too far into this idea of like, “I can pull in the cosmic collaboration,” then when someone calls me and says, “Hey, I have this investment opportunity,” you’re like, “Oh, I’ve manifested getting rich.” Well, look, I know Angela and I would love to hear your thoughts on manifestation and this so-called “law of attraction.” So, if you would be willing, record a voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone and email it to us at and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. Also, if you like the show and want to support it, the best thing you can do is tell a friend about it. You can also spread the word on social media or leave a review in your podcast app. 

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Angela and Mike discuss the steps to take in order to make your resolution a reality.

MAUGHAN: We set goals and now we’re going to jump over this blue piece of paper symbolizing the river Rubicon.

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Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about manifestation.

DUCKWORTH: So, when you said “manifestation” and “law of attraction,” I was searching my memory. I was like, “What research is there,” but there is a lot of research on what psychologists call “positive fantasies.” And so, let me tell you the story of how I got serious about trying to understand positive fantasies. So, when I was in graduate school, I was working with the KIPP charter schools, working with Dave Levin, who co-founded these charter schools that are now national. And Dave gave me a mission. He said, “I want you to find out what the most important insights of psychological science are so we can import them into the KIPP charter schools. He’s like, “Yeah. I mean, I don’t know what it is. Is it physical exercise? Is it mindfulness? Is it something else? Like, go forth and accomplish your mission.” So, I took out my notebook, and I made a list of all of the living world experts in anything that could be related to goals, and achievement, and effort, et cetera. And I went down the list one by one, and I called each of these experts, like, “So, I have this question on behalf of all the children who attend these schools. What do you think is the biggest idea in psychological science — the most robust and important? What idea could we help kids with most effectively?” You know, I talked to Walter Mischel and I talked to —.

MAUGHAN: Mischel, the famous marshmallow study.

DUCKWORTH: Marshmallow guy and then some other people whose names I’ll start to name and you’re like, “Who?” But the point is that these experts came to, actually, a pretty resounding consensus. Most, if not all, of them said that the sturdiest finding, and the most useful, was the research on goal setting and planning. And they sent me to the door of two psychologists at N.Y.U.: Peter Gollwitzer and Gabriele Oettingen. And their research, I think more than anyone else’s, reveals why positive thinking about your future — these, like, positive fantasies, you know, visualizing in high-res detail what it will be like in 10 years when you’re a successful comedic actor or whatever — like, how wonderful it was, but how dangerously incomplete. So, when you are deciding on a goal — a goal is a desired future state: “I want to be the most important comedic actor in the world a decade from now. I want to,”  okay, this is my own. “I want to finish my — my second book.” I was going to use an expletive but like —.

MAUGHAN: I just — I, I could tell. 

DUCKWORTH: You knew it, right?

MAUGHAN: When I do something like that, I say, “I want to finish my ‘bleep’ book.” I “bleep” myself.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I’m going to bleep. That’s good. So, I want to finish that — I mean, think about when you blow out candles on a birthday cake, right? We make a wish. And what’s really powerful about visualizing your future — about these positive fantasies — about closing your eyes even and making it happen in your mind is, that it helps you do something that all human beings need to do when they commit to a goal. And this is what Gabriele and Peter call “crossing the Rubicon of commitment.”

MAUGHAN: Oh my gosh. I love the phrase. I have friends, we use that all the time. We talk about “crossing the Rubicon.”

DUCKWORTH: Now you, as a more learned human being than I am, probably already knew what that phrase meant and where it came from.

MAUGHAN: The beauty is that I knew and have since completely forgotten. I know that I knew once.

DUCKWORTH: Well, okay, I’ve had more learned students in my classes, and so they’ve enlightened me as to, like, the history. But you will recall, Mike, that when Caesar crossed the river Rubicon — and therefore, you know, violated one of these, like, “if you cross this Rubicon, it’s war,” right?  And when Caesar was thinking about whether or not  to declare war, he said, if I cross this Rubicon, then the die will be cast. And then, he decided to. And the point was that you could not go back. This was not a two-way street. And so, this idea, metaphorically, of “crossing the Rubicon” for yourself, when you make a goal — like, when you say to yourself, “You know, I’d really like to lose five pounds next year,” you could be not yet across the river. But when you cross the river, there is actually a qualitative change in your energy and your attentional focus, and also a very different attitude toward obstacles. So, when you are still deciding about, you know, “Do I want to lose five pounds or not? Do I really want to, you know, go to the gym twice a week or not?”

MAUGHAN: It’s commitment toward the goal, right? Like, actual commitment.

DUCKWORTH: Yes, there is a kind of resolution. And obstacles before you have crossed the Rubicon actually make you less likely to be committed. You’re like, “Oh, then again, the gym is so far away. And honestly, who really cares?”

MAUGHAN: Or they brought in donuts to work, or they — whatever.

DUCKWORTH: You know, “The days are too dark. I don’t really like going out in the —” So, all those obstacles before you have “crossed the Rubicon” diminish your commitment. But when you have already crossed the Rubicon, those obstacles just heighten your energy. So, there’s this qualitative shift. It’s sometimes called the difference between being in the deliberative mindset — like, you haven’t crossed the Rubicon, you’re weighing the pros and cons. I tell my students this is the wringing-your-hands phase of motivation. You’re like, “I don’t really know.”

MAUGHAN: Or, like, you tell yourself you’re going to do it, but you’re not actually committed to doing it.

DUCKWORTH: And you can just introspect. People know. Like, if you introspect and you’re like, “Have I crossed the Rubicon? Or have I not crossed the Rubicon?” You know, because on the other side, any obstacles, you know, you’ve got this, like, mother-bear energy to overcome it. So, this is why the wife-and-husband couple of Gabriele Oettingen and Peter Gollwitzer have actually said: when you try to understand how to achieve your goals, there is some value in a positive fantasy, because it gets you across the Rubicon. It gets you to realize that there’s a reason to strive, and to toil, and to overcome the inevitable setbacks. Without positive fantasies of the future, it’d be hard to really get out of bed in the morning. So, that’s why positive fantasies are awesome. But if you sit in their office at NYU long enough — and I think you should stay for the second part where they’re like, “But!” Right? And I was like, “Well, what’s the but?” Because I’m like, “Oh!” I’m, like, writing this all down in my notebook.

MAUGHAN: Right, it all sounds great. 

DUCKWORTH: I’m going to go back to these KIPP charter schools. I’m going to say, like, “Oh, you know, maybe what all these kids need to do — maybe I should have done as a teacher — is sat at lunch and really helped kids visualize these positive futures, I don’t know, passed around The Secret.

MAUGHAN: No, I was actually visualizing you putting down blue paper and holding hands with these kids and saying, “We set goals and now we’re going to jump over this blue piece of paper symbolizing the river Rubicon.” We’re going to visualize us crossing it and starting our new lives.”

DUCKWORTH: I like that. I mean, look, I think that part is something to hold on to. And, you know, by the way, in the self-help literature — which people I hang out with don’t really love — but there often is a grain of truth, but the problem is that it’s often incomplete. So, here’s the thing that you don’t read about in The Secret. The “but” is this: when you cross the Rubicon, you’re not done. The second phase is planning. And a plan is a desired future action. You need to articulate all the things that you can’t do right then, but you’re going to do in sequence in order to achieve your goal. So, this second stage of planning is something that people don’t do when they only positively fantasize about their future, because it’s almost like you have “indulged” — this is the word that Gabriele used — in a way, you’ve sort of already indulged in the victory. You’re kind of done.

MAUGHAN: Oh, just by visualizing it, we’ve indulged in the victory.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, and people actually feel a lot of positive emotion when they vividly visualize a positive future. But If you don’t do the hard work of planning, then, you don’t get to the next phase, which is action. This is how Gabriele phrases it, she has an acronym for this. It’s WOOP. So, the first thing that you did was you made a “wish.” And the second thing starts with O, and that’s the “outcome.” You visualized a positive fantasy, a positive future. Here’s the second O in WOOP — and this is the thing that is the big “but.” This is why the law of attraction is maybe misleading. The second O is “obstacle.’ And now, let’s make the plan.   So, that’s the P, right,   that we can put into a time and place that will be the very next thing that you could do to make progress toward your wish coming true. So, wish, outcome, obstacle, plan. And I will say that this is half  The Secret, right? Positive fantasy, really visualizing what it would be like. But this downer part of the obstacle and the plan — I think this is what my students never did when I was teaching them, and that’s partly, because I  didn’t teach them to do it. And I think it’s the trap of this kind of visualization exercise that feels so good. And I think like the people that we hold out — like, you know, Jim Carrey or whoever else. Like, Will Smith who, you know, also has talked about visualizing, right, about —. I think these people, if you really sat down with them, would probably disclose to you that they did a hell of a lot of obstacle identification and planning also.

MAUGHAN: I love that you kind of went into that, because I, I look at the idea of manifestation and truthfully, I love it. I started very skeptical, but I love the idea of just putting things out there into the universe, taking this positive belief that the universe is conspiring in your favor, and just going for things in a way that is positive. I totally hear you that what’s dangerous is when that’s done in isolation and not enough. One thing that’s really interesting — because we talked about Jim Carrey, of course, saying he’s a great manifester and visualizer — one thing that really has taken sports by storm is this idea of visualization, which is a little different than manifestation. But to your point of obstacle identification, a lot of these Olympic athletes — and I think it really kind of blew up in Sochi, during the Sochi Olympics — would visualize their entire run.

DUCKWORTH: Like, Shaun White? 

MAUGHAN: Yeah, if you’re a snowboarder and you’re about to do the half pipe with all your tricks, a journalist named Christopher Clarey wrote an article in The New York Times called “Olympians Using Imagery as Mental Training,” and they would show them at the start gate all kind of standing around, but they’re moving their hips and their shoulders and their bodies as they’re going through every single trick in their mind. And so, there was an American aerialist, which is ski jumping, right? Her name is Emily Cook. And she said, “You have to smell it. You have to hear it. You have to feel it. Everything.” And she said, “It looks ridiculous when we’re all up there flapping our arms. It looks insane, but it works.”

DUCKWORTH: I think that’s different. I think visualization, when you’re an Olympic athlete — and it wasn’t just the Sochi Olympics. Like, you can interview any Olympic athlete and they all do visualization, really, and it wasn’t just recently that they’ve started doing that. I think that’s different though. I mean, I think what they’re doing is they’re activating a mental movie of what they have to do in hyper detail, and that is very helpful when you’re literally about to do it. And think about anybody doing anything, right? Like, you’re about to cook dinner, or you’re about to play a piano sonata, you’re about to conduct an interview — and having that mental movie of the way you want it to go is helpful, because basically that’s how human beings do anything. You have a mental movie in your head, and then you make your arms move the way they need to move, and you make your mouth move the way it needs to move. I think that’s different from, like, “I’m visualizing who I’m going to be in 10 years.” Like, that’s very much a motivational technique that’s less about, “Okay, I want my elbow to be here, and I want this.” So, I think they’re both good. I think that they’re just both incomplete. Like, which of those Olympic athletes got to be where they are without identifying the obstacles, and making the plans, and doing the work? I know this is obvious to you and me, but I don’t think it’s obvious to everybody who buys The Secret or who answers questions like, you know, “The universe is going to bring me success.” That’s, to me, the danger of it. Not that it’s wrong, but that it’s incomplete.

MAUGHAN: That it’s incomplete. Now, Angela, we have talked a lot about manifestation and law of attraction and how it is maybe helpful, but it’s dangerous when done in isolation. But I think we both agree that there is something to it, and. It’s a yes/and type of situation. So, I think my main takeaway from it is that, you know, for example, we can’t all manifest winning a certain lottery. That wouldn’t work. We can’t all manifest marrying your, you know, celebrity crushes. But we can manifest the kind of person we want to be with. We can manifest making more money. And then we can put into action WOOP, which is our wish, outcome, obstacles, and plan in order to get there. But I think, for me, I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to talk about focusing on who we can be and the self belief that we are worthy of something great and won’t accept less. 

DUCKWORTH: I agree, Mike, and look, I think that if you wanted a rule for life, if somebody is telling you something that they think is going to change your life, they probably are not entirely wrong,  but those things are so often incomplete. 

And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation:

In the first half of the show, Mike says that in her 2006 book The Secret, author Rhonda Bryne writes that the titular concept is largely based on the law of attraction. We should clarify that the ideas are actually one in the same. The “secret” that Bryne claims so many great historical figures had used to achieve their success is, in fact, the law of attraction.

Later, Mike says that manifestation content on TikTok has over 9 billion views. He got that figure from a 2022 article published in the British newspaper The Guardian. However, that number has increased dramatically in the past two years. As of this taping, #manifestation has over 52 billion views on TikTok. Angela wondered about how that number compares to views on viral cat videos and, in fact, it seems far less impressive in that context — #cats has nearly 188 billion views on the platform to date.

Finally, Angela shares the history behind the idiom “crossing the Rubicon.” She explains that General Julius Caesar — who, at the time, was a governor of a Roman province — declared that the “die had been cast” once his troops traversed the river Rubicon and entered Rome proper. However, this moment was not, in actuality, the beginning of the Roman civil war. German historian Christian Meier writes that by the time Caesar reached the river, his forces had already occupied Roman territory. Quote, “The die had already been cast. Reflections and hesitations, like the famous quotation, were strictly theater.”

That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about last week’s episode on whether children should be given more independence.

Austin FAUSNAUGHT:  Thank you for your episode on childhood independence. One aspect of the conversation that I don’t believe is discussed often enough is our built environment. I live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which is one of the top 20 fastest-growing cities in the US. A document produced by the city studied 311 miles of roadways. Many of the sidewalks end abruptly or are sidewalks to nowhere. Only 30 percent of the intersections with signals for cars had signals for pedestrians to cross. Nashville, just last year, in 2023, had its deadliest year for pedestrians and cyclists on record. It’s reasonable to see why parents are not comfortable with sending their children into a world that was clearly designed for cars and not for people. When we compare and contrast that with places like the Netherlands, another country with some of the best mental and physical health and independence outcomes for the youth, the difference is clear. I believe if we want our children to be independent, instead of being chauffeured around by moms and dads in cars, then we need to focus on our built environment and build places that prioritize the safety of people over the convenience of cars.

Lenore SKENAZY:  Hi, I’m the mom who let her nine year old ride the subway alone. Yeah, Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids Movement, and now I’m president of Let Grow. That’s the nonprofit promoting childhood independence. So, you know I absolutely loved this episode. And I especially loved that the Pediatrics article you were talking about is by one of my Let Grow co-founders, Peter Gray. The thing we realized about giving kids more independence is that it’s really hard to be the only one sending your kids to the park or the grocery or, obviously, the subway. A collective problem needs a collective solution. So, we came up with something called the Let Grow Experience. That’s a homework assignment that tells kids: go home and do something new on your own, with your parents permission, but without your parents. And when a bunch of parents are doing this at the same time, that’s how the culture starts to change. So, thank you for a great discussion, and don’t let Finland win. 

That was Austin Fausnaught and Lenore Skenazy. Thanks to them and to everyone who shared their stories with us. And remember, we’d love to hear your thoughts on manifestation and the law of attraction. Send a voice memo to, and you might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: What makes an inanimate object feel meaningful and valuable?

MAUGHAN:  You once sent me a mug with a picture of the two of us on it.

DUCKWORTH: Wait, what?! 

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. The senior producer of the show is me, Rebecca Lee Douglas, and Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. We had help on this episode from Julie Kanfer. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

MAUGHAN: I’ve been doing my scales all morning. Ahhhh. Um, obviously I can’t sing.

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